Zidane returns to help boost France team’s morale

Zinedine Zidane made an appearance at France’s training camp on

Wednesday to help coach Laurent Blanc restore the beleaguered

national team’s confidence following its poor performance at the

World Cup.

Zidane lunched with the players at the Clairefontaine camp and

watched videos of his France team winning the 1998 World Cup and

2000 European Championship. He also signed autographs and briefly

showed off his ball skills.

France hosts Belarus on Friday before traveling to Bosnia on

Tuesday in qualifying for Euro 2012.

”I wished them good luck for what’s fast approaching,” said

Zidane, who last visited Clairefontaine when preparing for his

final tournament, the 2006 World Cup. ”They’re a new generation

and they have important things ahead of them. The France team is

the ultimate level you can reach.”

Blanc wanted the presence of Zidane and former France goalkeeper

Fabien Barthez to help boost the team’s low morale and instill some

core values that were lost in South Africa.

France’s entire squad went on strike during a practice at the

World Cup in protest after Nicolas Anelka was sent home for

swearing at then-coach Raymond Domenech.

France left the World Cup in South Africa without winning a

single game – the second straight first-round exit for Domenech

after the poor Euro 2008 campaign.

A gifted playmaker, Zidane played 108 times for France and was

the undisputed star of a teams that also included Barthez and

Blanc, a stylish defender who played for Inter Milan and Manchester

United.

Things have gone badly wrong for France in the decade since

Zidane, Barthez and Blanc won the Euro 2000 trophy.

”I explained to them that the most important thing is to start

winning again,” Zidane said. ”Because a team is judged solely on

its results.”

Poor performances on the field under former coach Raymond

Domenech paled into comparison compared to the scenes during the

training ground boycott. Patrice Evra led the players onto the team

bus and drew the curtains, moments after he had a heated argument

with the team’s fitness coach. One furious French football official

then resigned on the spot.

As punishment for being the perceived ringleaders of the

training strike, Evra, Franck Ribery and Jeremy Toulalan were all

suspended by the French Football Federation. Anelka was given a

massive 18-game ban.

Toulalan received only a one-game ban, ruling him out of the

Belarus game, but Blanc did not pick him anyway.

Evra was banned for five games and Ribery, a former vice

captain, was suspended for three matches. Both players have been

ruled out the opening two qualifiers.

Zidane predicts Blanc will turn France into a successful team

again.

”Laurent is the right man for the job because of his experience

and the player he was,” Zidane said. ”Because the team is

starting from scratch, they can do some extraordinary things

together.”

AP Sports Writer Jerome Pugmire contributed to this report.